Linebacker Analytics and Metrics

Predicting Off-Ball Linebackers: Part 1

Almost everything you’re going to see in this series was not an organic idea of mine. Every ingredient placed into the work i’ve spent months on is built off the shoulders of others.

I hate the tape. I didn’t always hate the tape, but I hate the tape now. My experience in the never-ending arguments of which Jets QB should start in 2016 taught me that there is almost no objectivity in tape. There’s no way tape can be the foundational start of an argument for me. But basic numbers are nearly as bad. They don’t contextualize, they don’t explain themselves, they just log data. But some numbers do contextualize, and those numbers are the right place to start an argument.

With the amount of information out there about offensive players, it felt like it was time for someone to put the same effort into creating analytics for IDP. So here I am and here’s where the real article begins.

In common IDP scoring, the most valuable asset will be the off-ball linebacker. Tackle heavy, capable of getting interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks; they are the lead producers for IDP. The high floor mixed with a regular chance for splash plays has made it so. They’re way more productive than every other IDP, including their cousin, the pass rushing linebacker. Since 2008, there have only been 5 outside linebacker seasons finishing inside the top 5 for linebacker scoring. The remaining forty top-5 finishes belong to off-ball linebackers.

Continuing to look at the linebackers since 2008, out of 216 top 24 finishing linebackers, 187 of them have been off-ball. And only 33 of those 187 were one time performers. 11 of those 33 come from the last two years (so they may just be newcomers to IDP stardom, like Kwon Alexander, Deion Jones, and some others). The off-ball linebacker is king and the ones that produce generally repeat.

So how can we figure out who will and won’t be a top linebacker from an objective foundation? Which players have the highest chance to get there? We can find out by looking at around 400 off-ball linebackers that have entered the NFL since 2005.

Linebacker Analytics and Metrics
Athleticism across all players currently in the database. BMI is the standard BMI formula. Agility Score combines the 20 yard Shuttle and 3 Cone drills. Speed Raw is the raw 40 time. Adjusted Speed is the Height Adjusted Speed Score formula. Burst measures lower body explosiveness through the Broad Jump and Vertical Jump. All values are percentiles.

People can deny athleticism’s importance all they want, but the more athletic you are the greater your margin for error is in the NFL. It’s important to be athletic.

Two numbers stand out in the above chart, Raw Speed and Adjusted Speed. The average top 24 linebacker is at least 7 percentiles above the average non-top 24 linebacker in both. So we can assume straight-line speed matters.

Linebacker Analytics and Metrics
College Production amongst all players currently in the database. College Solo-Tkl % is the percentage of team solo tackles a player had in their best season, or best and final season averaged if their final wasn’t their best. College Tackle % is the percentage of all team tackles a player had, also using the best season or best and final averaged. Age Breakout is the players age at the end of the season where they hit at least 9% of the teams total tackle amount. Draft Age is self-explanatory. All values are percentiles.

A lot of people also want to deny college production’s importance amongst players. But if you can’t produce in college against lesser competition, how can you be expected to produce in the NFL? Turns out the numbers agree with that hypothesis.

The average top 24 LB is a significantly above average producer of solo tackles and overall tackles for their college team. They also happen to hit the threshold of 9% of their teams overall tackles at an earlier age (9% chosen due to 100% of the tackles being shared amongst 11 players starting on the defense, in theory). And they’re entering the draft way younger than those that aren’t top 24.

So we’re done here, right? Case closed. Draft players who own a large portion of their teams production, are fast, and young. Sweet. Time to win your IDP dynasties. 

Well, not really. There’s actually more to look at. That’ll be in part 2.

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